This fall, professors throughout the nation will be referencing a now-famous cheat sheet to help them better communicate with and connect to their students, avoiding gaffs that might instantly destroy their credibility with the class of 2016. This tool, called The Mindset List, is published annually by Beloit College and attempts to illuminate the inner workings and outward behaviors of young people for those who would educate them.
In a world rife with concern about texting while driving, loss of social skills to technology, adolescent obesity, boomerang kids, and other unhappy social epidemics, The Mindset List takes a good-natured approach to its observations of youth culture. This year’s list, for instance, states that if the class of 2016 “miss(es) The Daily Show, they can always get their news on YouTube,” and that for this generation “there have always been blue M&Ms, but no tan ones.”
But the list also points to small but important differences between the generations—micro details that, together, can create real misunderstanding on the scale of a full-blown generation gap. The list reminds us that this generation has “always lived in cyberspace, addicted to a new generation of ‘electronic narcotics,’” and that—due, perhaps, to the ubiquity of headphones—freshmen are not ignoring their professors, but instead are “enter(ing) college already displaying some hearing loss.”
When I first read the list, I chuckled dismissively. It was a tongue-in-cheek catalog of amusing cultural differences between the class of 2016 and their parents, professors, and employers. But a second look reminded me that these little gaps, together, make up the big one that has always existed between the current generation of incumbent adults and their would-be successors. The kind of gap that leaves us wondering “what’s the matter with kids today?” Kids who send an average of 80 text messages per person per day? Kids who have never used an encyclopedia and don’t know how to use a map? Surely they will suffer, fail, go to hell in a hand basket? And as we shake our heads at them, they shake their heads at us.
As I reviewed the list a second time I began to understand why it’s become such a popular tool for professors, parents, and employers. It’s a reminder that what happens to the current generation won’t likely be much different from what happened to ours. There will be obstacles, hazards, tragedies, new ways of getting into trouble. There will be innovations, victories, and celebrations.
In the end, the list reminds us, things will mostly balance out. In the end, the kids will be alright.
Even if they don’t get that reference.